CHAPTER LII. INVOLVING A SERIOUS CHANGE IN THE WELLER FAMILY, AND THE UNTIMELY DOWNFALL OF Mr. STIGGINS
Considering it a matter of delicacy to abstain from introducing either Bob Sawyer or Ben Allen to the young couple, until they were fully prepared to expect them, and wishing to spare Arabella's feelings as much as possible, Mr. Pickwick proposed that he and Sam should alight in the neighbourhood of the George and Vulture, and that the two young men should for the present take up their quarters elsewhere. To this they very readily agreed, and the proposition was accordingly acted upon; Mr. Ben Allen and Mr. Bob Sawyer betaking themselves to a sequestered pot-shop on the remotest confines of the Borough, behind the bar door of which their names had in other days very often appeared at the head of long and complex calculations worked in white chalk.
'Dear me, Mr. Weller,' said the pretty housemaid, meeting Sam at the door.
'Dear ME I vish it vos, my dear,' replied Sam, dropping behind, to let his master get out of hearing. 'Wot a sweet-lookin' creetur you are, Mary!'
'Lot, Mr. Weller, what nonsense you do talk!' said Mary. 'Oh! don't, Mr. Weller.'
'Don't what, my dear?' said Sam.
'Why, that,' replied the pretty housemaid. 'Lor, do get along with you.' Thus admonishing him, the pretty housemaid pushed Sam against the wall, declaring that he had tumbled her cap, and put her hair quite out of curl.
'And prevented what I was going to say, besides,' added Mary. 'There's a letter been waiting here for you four days; you hadn't gone away, half an hour, when it came; and more than that, it's got "immediate," on the outside.'
'Vere is it, my love?' inquired Sam.
'I took care of it, for you, or I dare say it would have been lost long before this,' replied Mary. 'There, take it; it's more than you deserve.'
With these words, after many pretty little coquettish doubts and fears, and wishes that she might not have lost it, Mary produced the letter from behind the nicest little muslin tucker possible, and handed it to Sam, who thereupon kissed it with much gallantry and devotion.
'My goodness me!' said Mary, adjusting the tucker, and feigning unconsciousness, 'you seem to have grown very fond of it all at once.'
To this Mr. Weller only replied by a wink, the intense meaning of which no description could convey the faintest idea of; and, sitting himself down beside Mary on a window-seat, opened the letter and glanced at the contents.
'Hollo!' exclaimed Sam, 'wot's all this?'
'Nothing the matter, I hope?' said Mary, peeping over his shoulder.
'Bless them eyes o' yourn!' said Sam, looking up.
'Never mind my eyes; you had much better read your letter,' said the pretty housemaid; and as she said so, she made the eyes twinkle with such slyness and beauty that they were perfectly irresistible.
Sam refreshed himself with a kiss, and read as follows: —
'MARKIS GRAN 'By DORKEN 'Wensdy.
'My DEAR SAMMLE,
'I am werry sorry to have the pleasure of being a Bear of ill news your Mother in law cort cold consekens of imprudently settin too long on the damp grass in the rain a hearing of a shepherd who warnt able to leave off till late at night owen to his having vound his-self up vith brandy and vater and not being able to stop his-self till he got a little sober which took a many hours to do the doctor says that if she'd svallo'd varm brandy and vater artervards insted of afore she mightn't have been no vus her veels wos immedetly greased and everythink done to set her agoin as could be inwented your father had hopes as she vould have vorked round as usual but just as she wos a turnen the corner my boy she took the wrong road and vent down hill vith a welocity you never see and notvithstandin that the drag wos put on directly by the medikel man it wornt of no use at all for she paid the last pike at twenty minutes afore six o'clock yesterday evenin havin done the journey wery much under the reglar time vich praps was partly owen to her haven taken in wery little luggage by the vay your father says that if you vill come and see me Sammy he vill take it as a wery great favor for I am wery lonely Samivel n. b. he VILL have it spelt that vay vich I say ant right and as there is sich a many things to settle he is sure your guvner wont object of course he vill not Sammy for I knows him better so he sends his dooty in which I join and am Samivel infernally yours
'Wot a incomprehensible letter,' said Sam; 'who's to know wot it means, vith all this he-ing and I-ing! It ain't my father's writin', 'cept this here signater in print letters; that's his.'
'Perhaps he got somebody to write it for him, and signed it himself afterwards,' said the pretty housemaid.
'Stop a minit,' replied Sam, running over the letter again, and pausing here and there, to reflect, as he did so. 'You've hit it. The gen'l'm'n as wrote it wos a-tellin' all about the misfortun' in a proper vay, and then my father comes a-lookin' over him, and complicates the whole concern by puttin' his oar in. That's just the wery sort o' thing he'd do. You're right, Mary, my dear.'
Having satisfied himself on this point, Sam read the letter all over, once more, and, appearing to form a clear notion of its contents for the first time, ejaculated thoughtfully, as he folded it up —
'And so the poor creetur's dead! I'm sorry for it. She warn't a bad-disposed 'ooman, if them shepherds had let her alone. I'm wery sorry for it.'
Mr. Weller uttered these words in so serious a manner, that the pretty housemaid cast down her eyes and looked very grave.
'Hows'ever,' said Sam, putting the letter in his pocket with a gentle sigh, 'it wos to be — and wos, as the old lady said arter she'd married the footman. Can't be helped now, can it, Mary?'
Mary shook her head, and sighed too.
'I must apply to the hemperor for leave of absence,' said Sam.
Mary sighed again — the letter was so very affecting.
'Good-bye!' said Sam.
'Good-bye,' rejoined the pretty housemaid, turning her head away.
'Well, shake hands, won't you?' said Sam.
The pretty housemaid put out a hand which, although it was a housemaid's, was a very small one, and rose to go.
'I shan't be wery long avay,' said Sam.
'You're always away,' said Mary, giving her head the slightest possible toss in the air. 'You no sooner come, Mr. Weller, than you go again.'
Mr. Weller drew the household beauty closer to him, and entered upon a whispering conversation, which had not proceeded far, when she turned her face round and condescended to look at him again. When they parted, it was somehow or other indispensably necessary for her to go to her room, and arrange the cap and curls before she could think of presenting herself to her mistress; which preparatory ceremony she went off to perform, bestowing many nods and smiles on Sam over the banisters as she tripped upstairs.
'I shan't be avay more than a day, or two, Sir, at the furthest,' said Sam, when he had communicated to Mr. Pickwick the intelligence of his father's loss.
'As long as may be necessary, Sam,' replied Mr. Pickwick, 'you have my full permission to remain.'
'You will tell your father, Sam, that if I can be of any assistance to him in his present situation, I shall be most willing and ready to lend him any aid in my power,' said Mr. Pickwick.
'Thank'ee, sir,' rejoined Sam. 'I'll mention it, sir.'
And with some expressions of mutual good-will and interest, master and man separated.
It was just seven o'clock when Samuel Weller, alighting from the box of a stage-coach which passed through Dorking, stood within a few hundred yards of the Marquis of Granby. It was a cold, dull evening; the little street looked dreary and dismal; and the mahogany countenance of the noble and gallant marquis seemed to wear a more sad and melancholy expression than it was wont to do, as it swung to and fro, creaking mournfully in the wind. The blinds were pulled down, and the shutters partly closed; of the knot of loungers that usually collected about the door, not one was to be seen; the place was silent and desolate.
Seeing nobody of whom he could ask any preliminary questions, Sam walked softly in, and glancing round, he quickly recognised his parent in the distance.
The widower was seated at a small round table in the little room behind the bar, smoking a pipe, with his eyes intently fixed upon the fire. The funeral had evidently taken place that day, for attached to his hat, which he still retained on his head, was a hatband measuring about a yard and a half in length, which hung over the top rail of the chair and streamed negligently down. Mr. Weller was in a very abstracted and contemplative mood. Notwithstanding that Sam called him by name several times, he still continued to smoke with the same fixed and quiet countenance, and was only roused ultimately by his son's placing the palm of his hand on his shoulder.
'Sammy,' said Mr. Weller, 'you're welcome.'
'I've been a-callin' to you half a dozen times,' said Sam, hanging his hat on a peg, 'but you didn't hear me.'
'No, Sammy,' replied Mr. Weller, again looking thoughtfully at the fire. 'I was in a referee, Sammy.'
'Wot about?' inquired Sam, drawing his chair up to the fire.
'In a referee, Sammy,' replied the elder Mr. Weller, 'regarding HER, Samivel.' Here Mr. Weller jerked his head in the direction of Dorking churchyard, in mute explanation that his words referred to the late Mrs. Weller.
'I wos a-thinkin', Sammy,' said Mr. Weller, eyeing his son, with great earnestness, over his pipe, as if to assure him that however extraordinary and incredible the declaration might appear, it was nevertheless calmly and deliberately uttered. 'I wos a-thinkin', Sammy, that upon the whole I wos wery sorry she wos gone.'
'Vell, and so you ought to be,' replied Sam.
Mr. Weller nodded his acquiescence in the sentiment, and again fastening his eyes on the fire, shrouded himself in a cloud, and mused deeply.
'Those wos wery sensible observations as she made, Sammy,' said Mr. Weller, driving the smoke away with his hand, after a long silence.